Donald Trump’s positions on Mexico and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are often judged as paradoxical symptoms of the decline of the United States, a decline accompanied by a populism similar to that in Latin America. However, despite Trump’s direct appeal to the people, his continuous disregard for norms and institutions, and his ruthless style, U.S. institutions remain clearly different from those in Central and South America, as they are both more solid and more resilient. Recent events should be judged calmly and informed by historical context. The definitive turning point of the United States towards globalization started with the severe Mexican economic crisis of 1994/95. To prevent that currency crisis from affecting the United States, President Clinton promised 40 billion dollars to save U.S funds that had invested in peso bonds. However, he did not manage to obtain support from Congress, and Fed chairman Alan Greenspan had to resort to the exchange rate stabilization fund and was able to commit only $20 billion. Foreign central banks learned from their newspapers that the International Banking Regulations (IBR) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would compete for the remaining sum. The United States was unable to manage a crisis related to one of its peripheries. It was a financial acknowledgement that it was necessary to change the trade framework, to focus on China and the balance of payments, thereby subverting the usual bonds of dependence between the United States and the countries of Latin America.
U.S. indifference to Latin American politics
The United States’ indifference towards even extreme political events in the rest of the Americas and the approval of the increased integration in world trade of this area originate from this context. Under Clinton, the usual connections that had been one of the constants in U.S. foreign policy ceased to exist.
During the Depression FDR still considered Latin America’s raw materials part of the United States’ indispensable self-sufficiency circuit, but under Clinton the relationship to the Americas had instead developed into a non-crucial element in a globalized world view. Trump cannot return to the past with Mexico, as that option was ended by Clinton. However, neither can he limit himself to the issue of the wall, as his policy must cover the various changes introduced by the Clinton era.
It should also be noted that Trump’s ideas also reflect those of the book published in 2004 by Samuel Huntington Who Are We, The Challenges to America’s National Identity. This book is as important as his “The Clash of Civilizations,” at least for the United States. This book argued that white English and Protestant culture were the wellspring of civilization in North America and continued to be so. Huntington was pleased to mention the demographics according to which, in 1990, 49 percent of Americans descended from settlers and slaves of 1790. He was also very concerned about the effects of immigration and globalization on the essential nature of the United States. Yet here is the paradox: in order to avoid ending up like Latin America, Trump, with his Latin Americas ways, went against the elites, who, in the United States, support Clinton-like globalization, a viewpoint not limited to Democrats. Suffice it to think that Bush senior, from 1974 to 1975, was locked up in a tiny office of U.S. representation in Beijing, persuaded, as he would later write, that “it was inevitable that China would evolve as a power broker not only in the Pacific, but in the world. China was quite simply the place where it was supposed to be."
Here the discussion has returned to China, which has pursued in the Americas its geopolitical game, not only commercial, of breaking the circle, supporting Communist regimes and more. However, Chinese imports from the area have now been downsized; the revolutions are not in good health; of the states that acknowledge Taiwan, the majority still belongs to Latin America and the Caribbean; the United States purchases the goods in the area that have the greater added value than those purchased by the Chinese; the trade in the area remains much higher. Powerful facts and Trump’s pragmatism cannot escape the interdependence between China and the Americas.
A reformed and unexpected U.S. policy
In conclusion, the wall with Mexico and NAFTA must perhaps only be judged as episodes of what will be an inevitable reformation of America’s relationship with this area, generated by demographic growth in Latin America and the interests of the traditional industrial sector in the United States, which is with Trump. The form and intensity of this reformulation will reflect, among other things, the undesirable outcome of globalization launched in the area by Clinton, which is replicated. Emigrations, tariff agreements, the Chinese issues and the crises of social experiments will be issues of a reformed United States policy that could be unexpected.